Years of hard work and determination were recognised earlier this week when President of Ireland Mary McAleese officially opened the Mayo Peace Park and laid the first wreath to remember Mayo's fallen in wars across the globe. Tuesday's ceremony was the culmination of over nine years of work by chairman of the Mayo Peace Park committee Michael Feeney. From what started as a letter to a newspaper and on to a war remembrance Mass in 1999, nine years of work by Mr Feeney and his committee culminated with the official opening this week.
The wet grey skies that enclosed Castlebar on the morning of the opening had given way to an overcast but dry sky by the time the appointed hour approached. Fittingly the last person to speak before President McAleese laid the first wreath was Michael Feeney, who expressed his gratitude to all those involved in the park and to President McAleese for unveiling the monument.
“I have to say as chairman, it was a privilege for me to work with the men and women who served on this committee. I was a long time in football and served in many organisations and these people took it to a new level. The professionalism and expertise, everything they offered was perfect. I put a special welcome out there, and this is the deepest in my heart, to all the families of the fallen who are remembered here in this park. People have traveled from Hong Kong, Canada, all over Britain and Northern Ireland, from every part of the globe to be here. And it is wonderful, my phone had been hopping for weeks, everyone wanted to come and it's great to see that you did come. Because in times past, sometimes they were forgotten and enough respect and dignity wasn't given to them, but after today the families will have that dignity and respect given back to them. They will be remembered.”
President McAleese in opening the Peace Park gave a poignant address to the assembled crowd, where she recognised the fact that for many years the memories of the Irish who had fallen in conflicts wearing the uniform of foreign nations were often confined to the back of the Irish psyche.
“This is a very special occasion for the people of Mayo as we gather to open a very beautiful memorial.
“This place is a very simple gesture of honor an memory for all those from Mayo who gave their lives in the unselfish service of others. Some gave service to the uniform of the Irish army and to the UN, others wore the uniform of other armies in other times if we cast our mind back over the complex history of our country.
“Some of those who died were destined to be remembered and others, in particular the 50,000 who died in the Great War, were destined to lie in shoe boxes in attics until recent years when a great longing for reconciliation allowed us the freedom to remember differently.
“The opening of the island of Ireland peace park in Messina, Belgium and the opening of the Mayo Park consolidates the mood. To ensure that we will continue to remember differently and allow us to build peace and close the door forever on conflict. 2006 was the first time that the Somme was commemorated here and it followed only weeks after the commemoration of the 90th anniversary of the 1916 rising. It is very telling that it took us some time to juxtapose these two events. It is very telling of the mood and hurt of the Irish people. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Ireland’s involvement with the United Nations, something we have taken an enormous pride in the way our forces have taken a very compassionate and protected care of very very troubled communities in conflict zones around the world. They brought hope, they brought dignity to so many people and they also conferred huge international credit and respect on their homeland. Ours is a very small island, with a small jurisdiction with a history of neutrality which has never stopped us exercising our responsibility in the cause of world peace. Mayo's sons and daughters have and continue to do their duty.”